It's cold. It's rainy. It's dark. It's time to start planning your next trip. Grab a cup of coffee or a mug of tea. Light the fire. Settle in with your laptop and drag your mouse...
It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s dark.
It’s time to start planning your next trip.
Grab a cup of coffee or a mug of tea. Light the fire. Settle in with your laptop and drag your mouse this way (or just keep reading) as I click through the bookmarks for some of my best tips and travel finds in 2004.
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Travel experts say next year is shaping up to be the busiest year for travel since before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you’ve got the itch to travel, you’re not alone. But chances are your worries about terrorism and the war, if there ever were any, have given way to fears about prices.
Watch this space in the coming months for ideas on how to cope with the falling value of the dollar against foreign currencies, including the euro, the British pound and the Canadian dollar.
Meanwhile, why not consider an affordable, close-to-home getaway? Think about a popular seasonal destination and plan a trip offseason.
Whistler in the summer. Yosemite in the winter. Crystal Mountain in the spring. I tried out all three in 2004 and found plenty to do minus the usual crowds, higher prices and scramble for rooms.
Whistler, best known for its world-class downhill skiing, is great for biking, hiking and picnicking in late spring, summer and fall. In winter, Yosemite offers free guided photography and ranger walks along the snow-packed valley floor. Miles of forested hiking trails surround the Crystal Mountain downhill ski area near Mount Rainier National Park.
One of my favorite local finds was Alta Crystal Resort in Greenwater, near Crystal Mountain.
In winter, downhill skiers fill a handful of cozy forest chalets. But rates drop and crowds thin in the spring right before the road to Mount Rainier reopens and summer tourists arrive.
Fireplace units come with kitchens, and there’s a heated pool (with no one in it when I was there in March). Evenings, the owners entertain guests with s’mores parties around the bonfire.
Take the train.
It’s the way to go for a hassle-free getaway to either Vancouver, B.C., or Portland, both close and affordable. No car required, and two-for-one companion fares available through May (see www.travelportland.com) on some Portland-Seattle runs. Call 800-872-7245, or see www.amtrakcascades.com, and keep these tips in mind:
Make sure you’re booked on a train and not a bus. This seems obvious, but it isn’t. Amtrak lists times and sells tickets for both on its Web site and some people, for good reason, find it confusing.
Book business class on your way to Vancouver. The main advantage is that you’ll be first off the train and save time by stepping to the head of the line at Canadian immigration and customs. (These checks are done on the train on the way back into the United States). The extra $12 charge includes a $3 coupon for the dining car.
Looking for something new to do in Portland? Check out the wine bars. Drop in at cozy South Park, downtown at 901 S.W. Salmon St. or hip 750ml at 232 N.W. 12th in the Pearl District (www.750-ML.com). Or grab a cab or a bus and head across the Burnside Bridge to Southeast Portland and Noble Rot, 2724 S.E. Ankeny St. (www.noblerot.biz).
Flying the friendly skies
You know which airlines to avoid. Here’s a few worth seeking out:
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines continued to expand its route system in 2004, adding nonstop service to Santa Barbara, Calif., and Miami. It also improved its technology for automated and online check-in.
Alaska has had its share of financial problems, but it manages to outclass competitors when it comes to service. Snacks and meals still appear on some flights, and sister carrier Horizon pours free Northwest microbrews and wine.
Seattle benefited from new competition in the Asia market in 2004 when China Airlines began nonstop service between Seattle and Taipei.
China Air’s fares (www.China-airlines.com) generally undercut those offered by EVA Air.
Flights within Europe became cheaper and more plentiful as the number of discount airlines grew and existing carriers added flights and cities.
One airline to watch is SkyEurope, (www.skyeurope.com), based in Bratislava, Slovakia, an hour’s train ride from Vienna.
The airline has added flights to Krakow from Amsterdam, Paris, London, Milan and Rome and to Venice, Dubrovnik, London and Paris from Budapest.
Flights on most of the no-frills carriers can be safely booked and paid for online, but remember that taxes can double the initial advertised price. A $65 round-trip fare on SkyEurope for travel between Amsterdam and Krakow became $135 with taxes, still a bargain compared to fares in the $400 range on major airlines.
Fares on the no-frills carriers usually don’t show up on the big travel booking sites such as Expedia and Travelocity. See www.attitudetravel.com for a list of which discount European airlines fly where and links to their Web sites.
Rooms without a view
Overseas hotel chains are following the lead of the no-frills airlines by offering inexpensive rooms with mod cons not normally found in your average two-star.
There’s nothing quaint or atmospheric about these places, but you won’t have to share a bathroom or climb five flights of stairs. Most have elevators.
Worth checking out in Bangkok is the Buddy Lodge (www.buddylodge.com) on Khaosan Road, an area popular with budget travelers near the Royal Palace and Chao Praya River.
Seventy-six newly renovated rooms decorated with green banker’s lamps and faux English antiques come with AC, TV and modern baths. Rates start at $46, including breakfast and use of a rooftop pool.
One of the best European economy deals is the B&B Hotel chain with 105 locations in France and eight in Germany.
The weekend rate on a modern double with air conditioning, private bath and elevator at the hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is $64. Breakfast is $7 extra ($3.50 for kids under 10). All the hotels have disabled-access rooms. See www.hotel-bb.com.
In Great Britain, check out the Travel Inn chain (www.travelinn.co.uk) with 440 hotels and rooms starting at 46 pounds — $88 at current exchange rates.
News on the travel horizon for 2005:
Either US Airways or United Airlines, both operating in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, could be forced out of business next year.
Congress last month let expire a law that offered travelers with tickets some protection by requiring other airlines to rebook passengers on a space-available basis for a $25 fee each way.
Lawmakers later reinstated the protections, but the oversight was a reminder to take your own precautions when buying tickets on troubled airlines.
Pay with a credit card so that you can ask for a refund from the credit card issuer if your airline stops flying.
Travel insurance probably won’t help. Some policies cover “supplier default,” the term for what happens when a tour company, cruise line or airline goes out of business and leaves people stranded, but policies exclude coverage on companies already in Chapter 11.
The dollar, now worth 10 percent less against the euro, the British pound and the Canadian dollar than it was a year ago, is expected to continue its decline in 2005. Deutsche Bank expects the dollar, now at $1.33 per euro, to weaken to $1.43 by the end of next year, an event that would translate into a 60 percent price increase for Americans since January 2002, when the euro was introduced.
In addition to the Scandinavian cities and London, one of the least affordable destinations is Dublin, where even the Irish are complaining about the prices.
Kinder on the wallet are the former Eastern Bloc countries and historical cities such as Krakow in Poland, Dubrovnik in Croatia and Ljubljana in Slovenia.
South America and Asia remain bargain destinations for Americans, but if you’re thinking that this might be the year to stay home, be prepared to spend more.
The cost of travel in the U.S. — hotels, restaurants, entertainment and transportation — rose 8 percent last year as the tourism industry began raising prices after a year or two of holding back after 9/11. All indications are that the increases will continue in 2005.
The Transportation Security Administration has gone back to the drawing board on a new system to screen airline passengers.
The latest plan requires airlines to supply lists of all passengers who flew domestically in June. TSA plans to compare the names against government watch lists in a 30-day test program called Secure Flight, slated to begin sometime in 2005. Stay tuned.
Carol Pucci’s Travel Wise column runs the last Sunday of the month in Travel. Comments are welcome.
Contact her at 206-464-3701 or email@example.com